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Identification of Global Natural Disaster Risk Hotspots - Sri Lanka Case Study

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Concept Note


The Global Natural Disaster Risk Hotspots Project attempts to deepen the understanding of the risks posed by multiple natural hazards and vulnerabilities, potential for mitigation, response approaches that take into account interactions among different hazards and hazard vulnerabilities.

The Sri Lanka case study builds on and complements the global study and mapping process. It shall explore issues of comparisons of local and global scale, usability of local and global information at the appropriate scale and orientation of study outputs for local action. The case study will also explore the seasonality of disasters from a climatic perspective.

What has already been done

IRI is currently engaged in Sri Lanka in areas of climatic predictions, water resource management, health, environment and capacity building. ( The Disaster Hotspots case study will draw on this expertise and contribute to the disaster management area.

Drought is the most significant natural hazard for Sri Lanka. In addition, there is flood, landslide and cyclone risk. The risk of volcano activity and earthquakes are negligible. From an initial review, there appears to be no substantive work on drought risk. There are some published works on natural disasters; they tend to be studies based on a specific hazard rather than a multi-hazard and without a significant input on vulnerability assessments. The majority of hazards arise out of hydro-climatic variability. However, the role of hydro-climate has not been adequately reflected in the published work.


The goal of the case study is to develop integrated natural disaster risk maps for Sri Lanka and support planning for damage mitigation as well as relief measures.


  • Collate and distill data sources, literature and research work related to hazards and natural disasters of Sri Lanka
  • Develop high resolution hazard maps
  • Develop vulnerability maps building on previously published work
  • Develop Natural Disaster Risk maps
  • Initiate contacts with Disaster Management Agencies in Sri Lanka


The project team will use a wide spectrum of data available on natural hazards, climate and socio-economic data. The primary sources of data include
  • Very dense hydro-climatic data network spread across the country
  • Sub-national socio-economic data from the Department of Census and Statistics
  • Statistics of natural disasters and damages to life and property from the Department of Social Services
  • IRI Data Library
  • Remotely sensed data (vegetation, soil moisture)
  • Global disaster data sets


  • Quality control of data
  • Construction of gridded hydro-climate data
  • Development of high-resolution drought maps
  • Mapping flood hazard
  • Mapping landslide hazard
  • Mapping cyclone hazard
  • Mapping vulnerability to specific and multiple hazards
  • Building disaster risk maps
  • Initiating ground level contacts
  • Publication of end-products through website and presentation material


At the conclusion of the case study, the project team will make the following output available to the public, primarily through the website.
  • Paper as required of case studies for the hotspots project
  • Project website
  • List of relevant contacts on the ground
  • A set of seasonal disaster risk maps for Sri Lanka
  • Details of methodology used in the mapping process
  • Details of datasets used


The project team is exploring co-operation with other research groups involved in the Disaster Hotspots Project. There is scope for collaboration with the World Food Program (WFP) South-East Asia project, the International Centre for Geohazards (ICG) of the Norwegian Geotechnical Institute project to assess global landslide hotspots and the Sri Lanka National Water Resources Authority (NWRA).

We have provided initial information to Oddvar Kjekstad, project leader of the global landslides hotspots study, as he attempts to identify focus regions for their work. Lareef has already had a meeting at the landslides mapping agency in Sri Lanka (National Buildings Research Organization).

The project team is exchanging information and expertise with the WFP field operative (Amara Samarasinghe) in Sri Lanka as well as the regional team leader (Mahadevan Ramachandran) to strengthen the case studies of both groups. Lareef has already met with Amara in Sri Lanka to discuss this work.

Prof. C Madduma Bandara, Chairman of NWRA, the apex body for water management in Sri Lanka, participated in one session of the Disaster Hotspots workshop. The project team has had extensive discussions with Prof Bandara to explore ways to utilize the products developed for disaster mitigation. This partnership will be explored further.

Possible Follow-up

  1. Analysis
    • Identifying relationships between climatic variability and the temporal variability of disaster risks
    • Develop methodologies to incorporate climate prediction in risk assessment for predictive disaster risk mapping
    • Extend the disaster risk maps to include vector borne diseases such as Malaria and Dengue
    • Investigate different methodologies of vulnerability mapping to enhance relevance and action orientation

  2. Outreach and capacity building
    • Develop approaches of using the disaster risk maps collaboratively with relevant government (both National and regional) organizations, NGOs and community groups.
    • Assist capacity building geared to prevention and mitigation of risk
    • Explore policy implications of disaster risk maps with the National Disaster Management Centre and other relevant government organizations
    • Improve disaster risk maps based on feedback from users.


Lareef Zubair- Associate Research Scientist in Climate Applications Research at the IRI. At the IRI, he has initiated and managed projects on the use of seasonal climate prediction for river basin management, malaria risk, rice, coconut and tea agriculture and human elephant conflict in the Mahaweli River Basin and cognate areas in Sri Lanka.

Vidhura Ralapanawe received his B.Sc (Eng) degree in Computer Science & Engineering from the University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka and M.Sc in Responsibility & Business Practice from the University of Bath, UK. He has been consulting to companies and organizations on risk management, strategy and organizational change.